Kate is by far my fanciest friend. She liked red wine when the rest of us still thought it was icky, and she can wear big hats and pearls and not look like she’s playing dress-up. As such, I’d been saving one of my big London bucket list items for her visit. So after our day around St. Paul’s, we bundled up and headed off to Piccadilly.
Destination: the Ritz London! Favorite haunt of the likes of Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Noël Coward, and Judy Garland. Definitely a list we can slip right in to, right?
We left our layers at coat check and presented ourselves to the maitre d’, who greeted me by name and welcomed us as though we were fancy young socialites who dined there weekly.
Tea at the Ritz is an experience. That’s what you pay for, and that’s what they give you. I didn’t realize the full extent of it all before we got there.
We were ushered in to the beautiful Palm Court and seated. The waiter put our napkins on our laps for us – I was really holding in the nervous giggles at this point. It felt like being in a play where I wasn’t completely sure of my lines. Everything was choreographed and executed to make us feel as though we were fancy and important.
It was funny to watch how the charade very slowly started breaking up, though. I think they keep up the front very strictly at first to give you a real Ritzy introduction, but then let the formalities go bit by bit so that you feel comfortable.
One by one, the iPhones started peeking out around us. Fellow tea-goers Instragrammed their spreads. The penguin-suited waiters leapt into action and offered to take photos, explained menus, even chatted a bit.
We got lucky with a lovely table right at the front, so we had a perfect view of the quartet playing ballads and jazz instrumentals all evening. The whole place was bathed in soft golden light and it was like being transported back in time. We felt like we were two of the Crawley sisters on a visit to town! (We promptly had a furious but silent fight over who had to be Edith, and eventually decided that Kate was Mary and I was Sybil. Pre-death, obvs.)
We started, appropriately enough, with tea. No wait, we started with champagne. Bubbles first, then tea. Or bubbles and tea at the same time. That’s okay, too.
I had oolong and Kate had the Ritz Royal Blend, both poured over antique silver tea strainers.
We moved on to the tastiest little finger sandwiches you can imagine. With great force of will, I ate these slowly and delicately and not all at once as a sextuple-decker sandwich. It was a little tempting. From left to right:
- Cheddar cheese with onion chutney
- Scottish smoked salmon with lemon butter
- Cucumber with cream cheese, dill, and chives
- Egg salad with chopped shallots and watercress
- Chicken breast with horseradish cream
- Ham with grain mustard mayonnaise
To finish up, we had an assortment of little tea cakes (top tier in the photo above) and a pair of perfect, soft, warm, fluffy scones with strawberry jam and Cornish clotted cream. Add to my countless victories of the night the fact that I did not scoop the clotted cream out with my hands and lick the dish. IT’S JUST SO GOOD.
At one point, the waiters bustled out of the kitchen with a round of little cakes for about half of the tables (birthdays, anniversaries, or otherwise), and this jaunty violinist popped right up next to us to serenade the celebrators up close!
We sat and caught up on the past year of our lives (Kate’s about to finish law school in Boston), while enjoying a last cup of tea. I loved the charming forget-me-not patterned china.
Our waiter obligingly snapped a photo for us. When I tell you this man was dedicated to his job, it is an understatement. He enthusiastically grabbed the camera, surveyed the room in both directions to decide on the best angle, and finally climbed right up under an indoor palm tree to get this shot. The palm fronds were hanging down in front of his face so all you could see were his lanky tuxedo-ed legs sticking out. It was the funniest thing. I tried to get a picture of him taking a picture but I wasn’t quick enough. Oh well, good story.
Even the powder room was swanky! Yes, I took pictures of the bathroom. I told you I was not classy enough to be there.
After nearly two hours of high society elegance, we graciously curtsied and swept ourselves away in to the night (no actual curtsies or sweeping was involved, but it’s a nice image, yes?).
So following a rather less ostentatious exit, we took a little stroll through Knightsbridge to enjoy the city lights. We popped in to a little, nondescript pub for a pint of Guinness, a magical elixir which sufficiently washed away the last of our aristocratic airs and dropped us firmly back on our starving student feet.
We tucked those feet in to a passing black cab and tried not to fall asleep on the ride back to Fulham, humming the last tune the quartet had played and mulling over our favorite finger sandwiches. Tea at the Ritz is obviously not going to be a regular haunt of mine, but it was a really special one-time London experience, and one that probably hasn’t changed much for decades and decades!
I don’t know about Kate, but I sure felt like I was playing dress-up… and who wouldn’t love that?